The ad in my 1977 comic book promised a smoke bomb that would deliver “surprise as smoke pours from under the hood.” At 13 years old, I thought I knew a lot about cars. My sister would soon pay the price for both misconceptions.
It had been three years since my last ill-conceived prank involving a vehicle. That one hadn’t ended well either. Crab apples littering the ground in woods along the country road, a lone, old pickup driving slowly by, and a dare that I couldn’t hit it helped me learn just how fast an angry adult can chase you down when you mess with their vehicle.
The smoke bomb arrived in the mail, addressed to me and discreetly packaged, as promised. At five inches long, it looked a little like a thin cigar and was wrapped in red, white, and blue paper with two copper wires protruding from the end. The instructions were simple – attach the wires to the vehicle’s spark plugs and watch as panic overtakes the driver when smoke pours from the engine compartment at start up.
I knew how to change spark plugs, or so I thought, so installing the smoke bomb on my sister’s 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon was a snap. When it was time for her to leave for work, I hid in the pine trees, barely able to contain my excitement as I watched the door close and heard the engine start. This was it! Smoke would soon pour from the engine compartment. She’s putting the car in reverse. She’s backing down the driveway. She shifts to drive. Uh-oh. There she goes. No smoke. No one screaming “the car’s on fire!” Nothing, except a letdown, and regret that I didn’t order the “keep on trucking” t-shirt with the big red tongue instead of a stupid smoke bomb that didn’t work. What could possibly have gone wrong?
I removed the smoke bomb from her car the next afternoon and tossed it into my dresser drawer along with other discarded treasures. Little did I know, the fun was just starting. See, I had no idea that it actually mattered which spark plugs were connected to which wires. In the course of installing and removing the smoke bomb, I’m sure I had removed all eight wires and reconnected them in no particular order – something my sister found out later that day, sitting on the side of the road, wondering why the car was running so poorly.
Luckily, she actually knew something about cars, unlike me, and figured out that the plug wires were connected wrong. She fixed them and was on her way. When she came home she asked me about it I confessed to the whole scheme, in part to prevent her from telling my dad and seeing smoke pour from under his lid! That’s when she gave me an education about how to change spark plugs, and that spark plugs, wires and cylinders had to be connected to the proper distributor terminal.
I decided then and there that it would be the end of my car capers—a declaration helped by the impending arrival of Sea Monkeys and Mexican Jumping Beans on yet another order from the back of the comic book.
Now that I know how to replace spark plugs, and that the different types of spark plug metal—such as copper, iridium, and platinum—actually matter, I always think about the smoke bomb that wasn’t…whenever I’m showing someone else how to replace spark plugs.
Editor’s note: Put the comic book down and head on over to Advance Auto Parts for all the best in spark plugs, batteries, brakes and more. Buy online, pick up in store.